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Bible Commentaries
1 Kings 15

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary



The brief annals still continue, although with some details as to the important reign of Asa. It is evident that the attempt on the part of Israel to subjugate Judah continues, still (see 2 Chronicles 14:9-15) aided by invasion from Egypt; it is checked by Abijah’s victory (2 Chronicles 13:3-20), but not baffled, till. by a desperate policy, the foreign power of Syria is invoked, and a serious blow inflicted on Israel.

Verse 1

(1) Abijam.—The form of the name given in 2 Chronicles 13:0, “Abijah,” is probably correct, as having a more distinct significance. The variation here, if not (as some think) a mere false reading, may have been made for the sake of distinction from the son of Jeroboam.

Verse 2

(2) Maachah, the daughter of Abishalom.—The Abishalom of this passage, called, in 2 Chronicles 11:20, Absalom, is in all probability the rebel son of David, whose mother (2 Samuel 3:3) was also named Maachah. In 2 Chronicles 11:21-22, it seems that of all the wives (“eighteen wives and threescore concubines”) whom Ŕehoboam, following the evil traditions of his father, took, she was the favourite, and that even in his lifetime Rehoboam exalted Abijam “to be ruler among his brethren.” In 2 Chronicles 13:2 she is called Michaiah, and said to be the daughter of “Uriel of Gibeah.” This shows that, as indeed chronological considerations would suggest, she must have been the granddaughter of Absalom. She is mentioned below (1 Kings 15:13) as prominent in the evil propensity to idolatry.

Verse 3

(3) Walked in all the sins of his father.—This adoption of the idolatries of Rehoboam did not prevent Abijam (see 2 Chronicles 13:4-12) from representing himself as the champion of the Temple and the priesthood against the rival worship of Jeroboam, and dedicating treasures—perhaps the spoils of his victory—in the house of the Lord. From the qualified phrase “his heart was not perfect before God,” however, it may be inferred that, like Solomon and Rehoboam, he professed to worship Jehovah only as the supreme God of his Pantheon; and it is a curious irony of circumstance that he should be recorded as inveighing against the degradation of His worship in Israel, while he himself countenanced or connived at the worse sin of the worship of rival gods in Judah.

Verse 4

(4) Give him a lamp in Jerusalem.—There is here a brief allusion to the victory recorded in the Chronicles, which obviously was the turning-point in the struggle, saving the “lamp” of the house of David from extinction, and “establishing” Jerusalem in security. “For David’s sake” is, of course, for the fulfilment of the promise to David (2 Samuel 7:12-16). In virtue of the continuity of human history, the Divine law always ordains that, in respect of consequences, the good deeds as well as the sins of fathers are “visited on their children.”

Verse 5

(5) Save only in the matter of Uriah.—In this passage alone do we find this qualification of the praise of David. In the Vatican MS. and other MSS. of the LXX. it is omitted. Possibly it is a marginal note which has crept into the text, or a comment of the compiler of the book on the language of the annals from which he drew.

Verse 6

(6) And there was war.—In this verse (omitted in the Vatican MS. of the LXX.) the repetition of the notice of Rehoboam, in spite of some artificial explanations, seems inexplicable. Probably there is error in the text.

Verse 10

(10) His mother’s name was Maachah.—Maachah was (see 1 Kings 15:2) the wife of Rehoboam, and, therefore, grandmother of Asa. She appears, however, still to have retained the place of “queen-mother,” to the exclusion of the real mother of the king.

Verse 11

(11) Asa did that which was right.—This reign—happily, a long one—was a turning-point in the history of Judah. Freed from immediate pressure by the victory of Abijah over Jeroboam, Asa resolved—perhaps under the guidance of the prophets Azariah and Hanani (2 Chronicles 15:1; 2 Chronicles 16:7)—to renew the true strength of his kingdom by restoring the worship and trusting in the blessings of the true God, extirpating by repeated efforts the false worships introduced by Rehoboam and continued by Abijah, and solemnly renewing the covenant with the Lord, in the name of the people, and of the strangers from Ephraim, Manasseh, and Simeon, who joined them. Of all this the text here gives but brief notice: the record in the Chronicles (2 Chronicles 14:15) contains a detailed account. From the same record we find that he fortified his cities and strengthened his army, and that he was able to repel with great slaughter a formidable invasion from Egypt, under “Zerah the Ethiopian,” in his fifteenth year.

Verse 13

(13) An idol in a grove.—The original word for “idol”—peculiar to this passage and its parallel (2 Chronicles 15:16)—appears to signify a “horrible abomination” of some monstrous kind; and instead of “in a grove,” we should read “for an asherah,” the wooden emblem of the Canaanitish deity (on which see 1 Kings 14:22). There seems little doubt that some obscene emblem is meant, of the kind so often connected with worship of the productive powers of nature in ancient religions, substituted as a still greater abomination for the ordinary asherah. Clearly the act of Maachah was one of so flagrant a kind, that Asa took the unusual step, on which the historian here lays great stress, of degrading her in her old age from her high dignity, besides hewing down her idol, and burning it publicly under the walls of Jerusalem.

Verse 14

(14) But the high places were not removed.—The record of the Chronicles—contrasting 2 Chronicles 14:5 with 1 Kings 15:17—indicates with tolerable plainness an attempt at this reform on Asa’s part, which was not carried out successfully. In spite of all experience of the corruptions inevitably resulting from them, the craving for local and visible sanctuaries, natural at all times, and especially in generations which had been degraded by gross idolatry, proved too strong for even earnest reformers. The historian, writing under the light of later experience, dwells on this imperfection of religious reform again and again.

Verse 15

(15) Which his father had dedicated.—These seem to be the spoils of his own victory over the Egyptian army and Abijah’s victory over Jeroboam. They replenished for a time the treasury, swept bare in the reign of Rehoboam by the host of Shishak.

Verse 16

(16) There was war . . .—According to 1 Kings 15:33, Baasha reigned from the third to the twenty-seventh year of Asa. The phrase, here repeated from 1 Kings 14:30, 1 Kings 15:7, appears simply to mean that the old hostile relations remained, combined with, perhaps, some border war; for it is expressly said in 2 Chronicles 14:1, that Asa’s first ten years were peaceful, and the open war with Israel did not break out till after the victory over Zerah, in his fifteenth year.

Verse 17

(17) Built Ramah.—Ramah, or properly, the Ramah—the word signifying only “elevation”—is mentioned in Joshua 18:25 as a city of Benjamin, situated (see Jos. Ant. viii. 12, 3) about five miles north of Jerusalem. It is mentioned in Judges 4:5; Judges 19:13; Isaiah 10:29; Jeremiah 40:1, and is identified with the village known as Er-Ram at the present day.

This fortification of Ramah close to the hostile capital—like the fortification of Decelea, near Athens, in the Peloponnesian war—was a standing menace to Judah. Baasha, who was a military chief, seems to have been warned by the ill-success of former attempts to invade and subjugate Judah, and to have used this easier means of keeping the enemy in check, and provoking a conflict—if a conflict there was to be—on his own ground. The text, however, implies a further design to blockade the road between the kingdoms, perhaps explained by the statement, in 2 Chronicles 15:9-10, of the falling away of many from Israel to Asa, now in the height of his prosperity. The new fortress was, no doubt, supported by all the military force of Israel, which Asa, in spite of his increased strength, dared not attack.

Verse 18

(18) Sent them to Ben-hadad.—This shows that Syria, recovering its independence at the fall of Solomon’s empire, was already attaining the formidable power, which so soon threatened to destroy Israel altogether. The Ben-hadad of the text is the grandson of Hezion, who must be the Rezon of 1 Kings 11:23. Already, as we gather from the next verse, there had been leagues between Syria and Judah in the preceding reign. Now it is clear that Baasha had attempted to supersede these by a closer league—possibly, like Pekah in later times (2 Kings 16:5-6), desiring to strengthen and secure himself against invasion by the subjugation of Judah. Asa naturally resolved to bribe Ben-hadad by presents to prefer the old tie to the new; but he went beyond this, and proposed a combined attack on Israel, for the first time calling in a heathen power against his “brethren, the children of Israel.” It was an expedient which, though it succeeded for its immediate purpose, yet both as a desperate policy and an unfaithfulness to the brotherhood, which, in spite of separation and corruption, still bound the two kingdoms in the covenant of God with Abraham, deserved and received prophetic rebuke. (See 2 Chronicles 16:7-9.) Just so Isaiah, in the days of Ahaz and Hezekiah, denounced the vain trust in confederacies with the neighbouring nations and alliance with Egypt (Isaiah 30:1-17).

Verse 20

(20) Smote.—The portion smitten now, as hereafter in the Assyrian invasion (2 Kings 15:29), is the mountain country near the source of the Jordan, which lay most exposed to the great approach to Israel from the north by “the entering in of Hamath,” through the wide valley between Lebanon and Ante-Lebanon, called by the Greeks Cœle-Syria.

Ijon is only mentioned in these two passages as belonging to the territory of Naphtali. It is supposed to have stood not far from Dan, close to the nearer, but fuller, source of the Jordan, in a position of great natural beauty and some strength, identified with the modern Tel-Dibbin.

Abel-beth-Maachah (see 2 Samuel 20:14-15) (“the meadow of the house of Maachah”), or (2 Chronicles 16:4) Abel-maim (“the meadow upon the waters”), lay probably in the marshy ground north of the water of Merom.

Cinneroth or Chinneroth, is the name afterwards corrupted into Gennesareth, signifying evidently a region in the neighbourhood of the lake.

Verse 21

(21) Dwelt in Tirzah—that is, returned to his own capital: in the first instance, of course, retiring to meet the new enemy in the north, and then obliged to give up his attempt against Asa. From 1 Kings 20:34, it seems as if, till the time of Ahab, Syria retained its conquests and a certain supremacy over Israel. Baasha may have had to buy peace by undertaking to leave unmolested Judah, which might be considered a tributary of Syria.

Verse 22

(22) Throughout all Judah.—Asa was not content to destroy or occupy the hostile fortress, but pushed his own fortifications further on. Geba, named in Joshua 21:17 as a city of the priests, in the territory of Benjamin, the scene of Jonathan’s victory over a Philistine garrison in the days of Samuel (1 Samuel 13:3)—identified with the modern Jeba—lies on the edge of a valley some distance to the north. It is noted in 2 Kings 23:8 as still the northern outpost of the kingdom of Judah. The Mizpah here referred to—for there were many places so called—a city of Benjamin (Joshua 18:26), famous in the earlier history (see 1 Samuel 7:5-13; 1 Samuel 10:17-25), seems to have been situated at the place afterwards called Scopim (“the watch-tower”), on “the broad ridge which forms the continuation of the Mount of Olives to the north and east, from which the traveller gains his first view” of Jerusalem (Dict. of the Bible: MIZPAH).

Verse 23

(23) All his might.—This phrase, not used of Rehoboam or Abijah, is significant, indicating the increased power of Judah under Asa.

The cities which he built.—Fortification of cities (see 2 Chronicles 11:5-10; 2 Chronicles 14:6) was naturally the traditional policy of the kingdom of Judah—small in extent, menaced by more powerful neighbours, but having an exceedingly strong country and central position.

Diseased in his feet.—In the Chronicles it is added significantly, “in his disease he sought not to the Lord, but to the physicians” (2 Chronicles 16:7-12); and from the same records it appears that in his last days Asa ventured to defy the prophetic authority by the imprisonment of Hanani the seer. Prosperity, it is implied, had somewhat deteriorated his character, though he still continued faithful to the worship of God. Certainly, Jehoshaphat on his accession still found much to do for the religious condition of his people.

Verse 26

(26) Did evil in the sight of the Lord.—This constantly-recurring phrase signifies (as, indeed, the context here shows) perseverance in the idolatrous system introduced by Jeroboam.

Verse 27

(27) Baasha, sprung from an obscure tribe, hardly at any time distinguished in the history, and himself, as it would seem (1 Kings 16:2), of low origin in it, is the first of the many military chiefs who by violence or assassination seized upon the throne of Israel. The constant succession of ephemeral dynasties stands in striking contrast with the unchanged royalty of the house of David, resting on the promise of God.

Gibbethon—a Levitical town in the territory of Dan (Joshua 19:44; Joshua 21:23), probably, like other places in that region, still held by the Philistines till their subjugation by David. The text here implies a revolt of the Philistines against the enfeebled power of Israel, and the occupation of Gibbethon, commanding a pass from the plain of Sharon to the interior. The siege must have been fruitless, at least of any permanent result; for twenty-six years after we find Gibbethon still in the hands of the enemy. (See 1 Kings 16:15.)

Verse 29

(29) According unto the saying of the Lord.—See 1 Kings 14:10-14. There seems no reason to suppose that Baasha had any formal mission of vengeance, or that his conspiracy and assassination were due to any motive but his own ambition. The contrary, indeed, may be inferred from the declaration of 1 Kings 16:7, that the judgment on Baasha was in part “because he killed” Nadab and his house. Sin which works out God’s purpose is not the less truly sin. Of Baasha we know nothing, except his attempt on the independence of Judah, and its failure (1 Kings 15:16-22).

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 1 Kings 15". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/1-kings-15.html. 1905.
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